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Cold, warm or hot? We asked the experts: What's the right temperature to wash your hair?

You might not think it, but washing with the right water temperature can make or break your hair — literally!

woman washing hair in the shower
You want to step out of the shower with locks that are clean, healthy and undamaged — here's how to get it right. (Getty)

When it comes to washing your hair, there are a handful of things that you need. You’ve got your shampoo, conditioner and maybe even a hair mask or two. Well, all of those hair products won't do you much good without the key to the whole routine: water, glorious water.

An obvious point, we know — but have you ever thought about your shampooing water beyond just turning it on and off? Well, it turns out that water temperature is a key factor when it comes to the overall health of your hair and scalp. Should you be lathering up with hot water? Cold water? Super hot water with a burst of cold water for two seconds? We needed answers, so we chatted with experts to find out the answer.

If you love a super hot, steam-filled shower, you may want to switch it up when it comes to hair-wash day. "Washing with hot water can strip away natural oils and moisture from the hair, leading to dryness and potential damage," explains New York dermatologist Jody Alpert Levine, MD.

Think about it: We stock up on hair products like heat protectants so we can safely use damaging tools like blow dryers and curling irons. And yet the heat damage from hot water doesn't just go away once you slather on a moisturizing hair mask. Using hot water can lead to damage beneath the surface level.

"Not only can hot water hurt your scalp, but it can also damage your hair follicles,” warns NYC hair stylist Nicolas Malabett Pineda. "The bottom line is that you never want boiling hot water to touch your hair." Noted!

One way to heal that damage is to look for products that feature a few nurturing ingredients. "Natural oils, like jojoba oil and oregano oil can provide moisture, shine and nourishment to the hair, while humectants like glycerin attract moisture to the hair." shares Texas-based board-certified dermatologist Kellie Reed, MD. "You can also look for proteins like hydrolyzed keratin and silk proteins to strengthen the hair shaft."

"Head & Shoulders is a longtime favorite of mine for dry scalps," says Dr. Levine. This specific line takes the brand's classic dandruff-fighting formula up a notch by adding in nourishing ingredients like jojoba and argan oil. 

$20 at Amazon

This deep-conditioning mask contains two of Dr. Reed's favorite ultra-nourishing ingredients: jojoba seed oil and glycerin. Its texture is luxurious, rich and creamy without weighing your hair down. 

$34 at Amazon
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Believe it or not, cold H2O does have its benefits — especially when it comes to getting the most out of your hair products.

"Rinsing your hair with cold water is really great for keeping the product you just applied on the hair," says California-based hair stylist Katelyn Ellsworth. "It will remove excess product without washing away all the moisture ingredients. It seals the cuticle, which locks that moisture and gives you more shine.”

Good to know! It's also long been believed that cold water is excellent for combating frizz. But: It’s not great when it comes to the actual process of cleaning your hair. "If you wash your hair with cold water you may not be able to wash away grime that is trapped in the cuticles," says Dr. Levine.

Not properly washing your hair is just as bad as using hot water. "Your scalp needs to be cleaned in order to maintain a healthy scalp of hair," explains Ellsworth. "This provides the follicle with the optimal growth ability." In other words: The shampoo has got to get deep in there to do its job! Here are a couple of products that do just that.

This quartet is a favorite of Dr. Ellsworth's when it comes to safely ridding your scalp of buildup. Infused with soothing and hydrating ingredients like glycerin and nourishing oils, it features the viral Briogeo Scalp Revival shampoo scrub, mask, detox shampoo and serum. 

$128 at Briogeo

This clarifying shampoo is the top-selling wash product on Sephora’s site. It cleanses away dirt, oil, and product buildup with apple cider vinegar, while keratin helps strengthen your locks — all without stripping their of their natural oils for a soft and shiny look. 

$32 at Sephora

Every expert we talked to said the same thing: lukewarm water. "It effectively cleans your hair, removing dirt and grime, while not drying it out," explains Dr. Levine. Meanwhile, Dr. Reed adds that tepid water does this because it "opens hair cuticles to allow shampoo and conditioner to penetrate better."

According to Dr. Levine, using lukewarm water affects more than just your locks. She says: "Washing your hair with lukewarm water majorly contributes to overall scalp health as well." And, as we've said, a healthy scalp is crucial for healthy hair.

If you want shiny hair that comes from cold water while still properly removing any product buildup, dirt and grime, there’s a way to do that and keep your hair healthy. Per Dr. Levine, just wash your hair with lukewarm water as normal and then do a final rinse with cold water before hopping out! "Lukewarm water opens up hair cuticles and pores, allowing moisturizing agents to seep in; and then the cold water closes them, locking in the hydration and leaving your hair looking shiny."

Just like water temperature, the quality of the water can also make or break hair health — especially if you’re washing with unfiltered hard water full of dissolved minerals like calcium and magnesium. "Hard water can contribute to the buildup of mineral deposits on the hair and scalp,” explains Dr. Reed.

That filmy buildup may be the culprit behind a handful of common hair issues. "It can cause dryness, brittle ends, and breakage on hair,” says Ellsworth. "Hard water can also distort light and blonde hair, causing it to yellow and become more sensitized. Ideally, you want hair to be strong and hydrated with elasticity.”

So, if your hair is dry, dull or brittle, you may be showering with hard water. The good news is that there’s a super easy way to fix that. "Because of the chemical buildups that occur in many water pipes, I do recommend a shower head filter for better washing results," advises Pineda.

There are a lot of different showerhead filters out there, but Dr. Levine suggests getting one with a multi-stage filtration system. "This targets a broad range of impurities and removes them before they damage your hair."

The Feelso contains 15 different layers of filtration to purge extra minerals from your water and make you feel like you're bathing in a mountain spring.

"This showerhead is amazing," raved a five-star reviewer. "The pressure is amazing, all three settings are a dream. It's got a lot of power but somehow remains soft and doesn't hurt your head or skin. After a single shower my skin feels softer and so does my hair."

$27 at Amazon

This simple showerhead from beloved beauty brand T3 features layers of sulfide, zinc and copper to remove chlorine and other minerals from the water. It also comes with seven spray settings so you can customize your shower experience. 

"After washing my hair once, the softness and clean feeling was very noticeable," shared an Amazon shopper. "I had been swimming in a chlorine pool beforehand and let the sun dry my hair, which will leave my color-treated hair a little more brittle, but it was a soft I haven't felt in a long time."

$150 at Amazon
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